St. Christopher House: a Neighbourhood History

Centennial Celebrations
Lead Researcher, Curator, Designer, Translator

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In 2012, St. Christopher House celebrated its 100th anniversary with a number of events scheduled throughout the year. To plan and coordinate the commemorations a Century Committee was formed, composed by Board Members (including myself), staff, volunteers, and community members. To kick-off the centennial commemorations we decided to set up a public history exhibit with historical records and artifacts stored at St. Chris’ locations. Before we could use these materials, they had to be sorted, digitized, and researched for content and meta-data. For that I lead a small task force with other St. Chris volunteers, and spent many months browsing and inventorying thousands of photos and other materials. Once digitized, I used these images to create 10 panels (retractable banners), one for each decade, each with a design emulating the layout of St. Chris’ newsletters from the time. I also created a  number of text panels with contextual information about various episodes and periods in St. Chris’ history. The text used on the displays was adapted from Patricia O’ Connor’s, The Story of St. Christopher House, 1912-1984, Toronto Association of Neighbourhood Services (1986), with additional content from my own research.

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The exhibit was held at St. Chris’ main location, at 248 Ossington Ave., on March 2-3, 2012. Along with the panels, we set up 4 tables with prints of various historic photos and asked people to pin them onto corrugated boards and post their comments or captions with sticky notes, in a kind of impromptu comic strip. The idea was for people to think about the construction of historical narratives and offer their version of St. Chris’ story. We also placed a map of the world and another of Toronto, then asked people to place a pin (a different colour for staff, participants, and visitors) on their place of birth and current residence, in order to create an interactive visual reference to the multicultural nature of St. Chris’ participants and staff, and its wide span in the city. Finally, visitors were given the opportunity to peruse some of the archival records dating as far back as the 1910s, with the help of volunteers.

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The kick-off exhibit was a wonderful, fun community event, with great energy, laughter, and stories. People of all ages, new and old friends of St. Chris, came out in large numbers to celebrate the 100 years of this esteemed community centre and social service agency. The event also attracted Toronto historians, media, and politicians. The two days were animated by performances by St. Chris’ choir and music school, and the Health Action Theatre by Seniors.

The panels continue to be on display at St. Chris’ locations, and are regularly showcased during its public events. Later, the Toronto City Archives invited us to set up the exhibit in their atrium, where it stayed between November 2012 – April 2013. I also created a digital version of the exhibit (versão portuguesa) for the PCHP’s website, with a considerable amount of original content by Susana Miranda, particularly the sections that deal with the Portuguese community.

2 thoughts on “St. Christopher House: a Neighbourhood History”

  1. are there any exterior photos of St Christopher House taken in the 1950’s?
    I recall a fire hydrant was on the sidewalk in front of St Christopher House.

    1. Hi Frank. Here is a photo from the 1960s, I believe, showing a fire hydrant in front of 67 Wales Ave.

      You might like this one too from the 1930s, of kids playing with a hose on the street in front of St. Chris, likely connected to the fire hydrant: http://archives.library.yorku.ca/files/original/hose-party-c1930s_d6d591db56.jpg
      You can find plenty more old photos of St. Chris on the digital exhibition we curated back in 2011: http://archives.library.yorku.ca/exhibits/show/pchp/st-christopher-house/stchris_intro

      Gilberto

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